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Speaking to the Soul: Perpetua and Her Companions

Speaking to the Soul: Perpetua and Her Companions

Commemoration of Perpetua and Her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202

Psalm124-127

Daniel 6:10-16

Hebrews10:32-39

Matthew 24:9-14

Saints come in all kinds. Recognized saints, by churchly standards, are classified in several categories: Priest, soldier, apostle, archangel, doctor of the church, mystic, founder (especially of a religious order), virgin, confessor, and so on. One of the big categories of sainthood is that of martyr, one who dies for the faith in a less-than-peaceful way. Confessors are those who stand up for Jesus but who die quietly and naturally (or possibly by accident), but martyrs are done in by others in sometimes rather gruesome ways. Take St. Lawrence, for example. He was martyred by being roasted on a grill. Legend has it that his final words were, “Turn me over, this side’s done.”

Perpetua was a catechumen, one who had not yet been baptized. She was apparently a young widow with a small child still being nursed. Her family was wealthy but apparently not Christian. When she was due to have a hearing in court, her father visited her and tried to persuade her to have mercy on him by renouncing this Christianity and returning to the kind of daughter he had known and loved. Perpetua, having had a dream or vision of a golden ladder and a fair land beyond it where the shepherd welcomed her, knew that she would not get out of this alive and so told her father that whatever happened would be God’s will. He left dejected, probably to never see her again.

In another vision, Perpetua found herself struggling with a gladiator. She won the contest and understood this to mean that she would withstand the attacks of the devil and prevail even though she would lose her life in the process.

Her day of trial came. She, another female prisoner named Felicitas, and three men, Revocatus, Saturus, and Secundus, were taken to the amphitheater. Things did not go precisely as they were planned. Perpetua was led out, a wild cow threw her to the ground and tore her tunic but failed to kill. Felicitas had been wounded as well and Perpetua helped her to regain her feet. Saturus was mortally wounded by a leopard but the other animals, a bear who would not leave his cage and a wild boar who gored his keeper, did not attack the men.

After a short rest, all remaining prisoners were lined up to be executed by human executioners, much as the pictures of ISIS executioners with their prisoners in front of them. When Perpetua’s turn came, the young executioner’s blow only wounded her. Reaching up, she took the blade in her hand and guided it to her neck. Presumably, the executioner then completed his task. I wonder — did Perpetua’s courage make any impact on the young man who took her life? Did it make a difference at all?

Today we have so many news stories and articles about martyrs in various parts of the world. Over the past months we have become increasingly familiar with martyrdom on almost a daily basis. The recent beheading of 21 Christians, mostly Coptics, was just the latest atrocity in a long string of beheadings, kidnappings, and tortures in different parts of the world. We are horrified, but don’t seem to be able to do anything to stop the carnage.

There are those, however, who consider themselves martyrs. No, not that they are being persecuted like the Romans did to Christians, Christians did to Muslims and Jews during the Crusades, or Muslims doing to Jews and Christians now. These are the ones who have staunch beliefs and believe everyone else should believe as they do. Because they frequently meet with disapproval or outright rejection of their beliefs, they consider that they are persecuted and are martyrs for their faith. Somehow I think Perpetua, Felicitas, Lawrence and all the others who endured excruciatingly painful deaths to earn the title “Martyr” would probably shake their heads in disbelief.

What would we do if we were placed in a position similar to Perpetua or her companions?  It would probably seem so easy to just deny their beliefs and save their lives. What made their faith so strong and unshakeable?  They knew the risks of even secretly practicing their beliefs, yet they continued. Why? What was so compelling about the message of Jesus that they would risk certain death if they were discovered?

Probably they would understand Luther’s statement of “Here I stand, I can do no other.” What they had to lose was their place in a kingdom where the slave and noble would be equal,  there would be no pain, suffering, or death, and they would be comforted and loved by the man who had been himself a martyr to prove that God’s love was for all people and for all time. Their faith in that promise enabled them to stay strong and faithful, even in the arena where they faced certain death.

Even if martyrdom isn’t a possibility or probability in our current lives, can we be sure how firm our faith is? Would our faith stay strong in the midst of persecution or would it crumble like a dried leaf?  Do we trust Jesus and his promises enough to stand on those promises, whatever comes? Are we as willing to build our faith as we are to tone up our bodies and strengthen our muscles? It all requires the same thing — practice and attention. We can look to Perpetua and the other martyrs like her for examples.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

Image: By Anonymous, via Wikimedia Commons

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Fr. Gregory Tipton

First off, I love this story. I'm so glad someone is writing on St. Perpetua & St. Felicitas. It's no wonder St. Augustine told his flock they can't replace reading the Gospel with just reading this story over and over 🙂

True, there has been much violence in the name of all kinds of beliefs, whether of a god or of a nation. I don't think however it's sufficient to say because they are "the ones who have staunch beliefs and believe everyone else should believe as they do." Everyone thinks this. Even when we say "you can believe X, Y, Z" it almost always comes with the clause "just don't hurt, just let other believe as they do, just..." And it's those add-ons, qualifiers, and extras that is the real meat of what we're trying to evangelize people with; what we actually believe and want others to believe too. If someone were to violate those beliefs, the question then is, how do we deal with it? One could act peaceably toward someone who won't believe like they do, it doesn't necessitate strife.

St. James didn't say it was beliefs that led to war, strife, and murder, but that it is because of our Passions. The passionate person can go from happy to murderous in a beat, because they go with the tides of their passions. It is rightly formed passions that I think the martyrs teach us. Such as you pointed out with what was at stake - the kingdom for them.

But there was also a strange kingdom you mentioned, where slave and noble were equal. I'm fairly certain the New Heaven & New Earth are not equal. St. John's Revelation of Heaven saw 12 Patriarchs & 12 Apostles sitting on thrones around The Triune LORD bowing in worship. While we shall all bow in worship, I'm fairly certain I will never get to sit on one of those thrones. We worship Christ the King. I hope I shall be alright with wherever I shall be placed in that Kingdom and not overstep Divine Order as Lucifer did. I think the Saints are lauded because they know that, they have seen the LORD gave them a place in the Order, to die for the sake of that kingdom and to find their happiness in their part in it. The Kingdom is a Monarchy, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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Emily Windsor

Killing people for their ideas is not in the Christian Covenant; indeed, it appears to be a political strategy of "sacrificing" an individual to "purify" the assembly, which is a directly Pagan, Satanist, Luciferian policy of political control.

Well, this says volumes about the practice of certain so-called "religions" that condemn non-believers, dissidents and reformers, doesn't it?

What it says is, if it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. And if it "cleanses" its assembly, it's actually a political ideology that is parading as religion; because, as we all know, YHVH our God says: "Thou shalt not murder."

And the men who have murdered, culled and killed in God's name are actually performing a political ideology, which is heresy in our Holy Book.

Destruction is never a blessing; Life itself is never the problem.

So much for people who make claims, they're keeping their assembly pure. "Do not be unevenly yoked with unbelievers" means, we must distance ourselves from such behavior.

Emily E

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Bill Brockman

Very good post. A quite recent case of courage in the face of possible martyrdom is Mariam Yehya Ibrahim of Sudan, sentenced to death for being a Christian and marrying a Christian despite her father being Muslim. She even gave birth in prison while caring for another young child. Thankfully, she was released thanks to pressure from other countries and now lives in the U. S.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/31/us/new-hampshire-sudanese-woman/

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Rev Andrew Gentry

AMEN!

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